Documentary Magazine Summer 2008
By Tom White
Music plays a vital role in the documentary form—it energizes the narrative with an emotional undercurrent; it enables the connection between filmmaker and audience; it lends the film that inexpressible, yet inexorable quality. In an art form predicated upon images and ideas, the music in a documentary––in the right confluence of artistry, craft and chemistry––can enhance the cinematic experience.
We celebrate music in this issue—the music documentary, the music documentarian, the composer and the nuts and bolts of music licensing and clearance. We all have our favorite music documentaries, and legendary rock ’n’ roll artist Patti Smith references Don't Look Back from time to time in Steven Sebring’s Patti Smith: Dream of Life, which celebrates the power and passion of this restless seeker. Sebring reflects with me on his 11-year journey that he and Smith took together. Phil Grabsky has made a doc about Mozart and is currently working on one about Beethoven. His latest work, Escape from Luanda, documents a year in the life of the only music school in Angola, which is slowly rising from the pain of 27 years of civil war. Grabsky’s British compatriot Paul Taylor also traveled to Africa, and returned with We Are Together, a tale of music as an uplifting force. Christiaan Harden talks to both Grabsky and Taylor about the making of their respective films.
Within the many sub-genres of documentary, some filmmakers have found a comfort zone in music. Robert Mugge has devoted his entire career to documenting homegrown American musical art forms, seemingly picking up where the late Alan Lomax left off. Mugge talks with Michael Rose about his ongoing wanderlust through America’s highways and byways. Canada’s Larry Weinstein has been feted for his iconoclastic approaches to documenting such musical icons as Beethoven, Mozart, Ravel, Shostakovich, Schoenberg, Weill and many others. He’s tackled the always daunting challenge of making music cinematic with a little experimentation and a little mischief. Marc Glassman talks to Weinstein about his oeuvre.
The documentary score is often overlooked and underappreciated as a vital character in a film. Documentary gathered a number of Los Angeles-based composers for a roundtable discussion, moderated by Lisa Leeman, about the creative process, the crucial relationship between filmmaker and composer and just about everything you need to know about creating the best music-scape for your work. Our thanks to roundtablists Mark Adler and Miriam Cutler for helping to organize this confab.
Finally, one cannot overlook music clearance and licensing. David G. Powell of the Music Bridge shares his wisdom about the field, while Michael Galinsky reviews music rights impresario Brooke Wentz’s Hey, That’s My Music: Music Supervision, Licensing and Content Acquisition.
Yours in actuality,